She May Not Exactly Be the Boss, but Talk of Independents Should Begin with Keke, Not John, Anderson

updated 05/12/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/12/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Most parents love their 8-year-old's stories, but few send them off to Random House, as Keke Anderson did. The manuscript wasn't bought, but it did keep daughter Eleanora writing (now 26 and married, she's doing work in English lit at George Washington University). Similarly, when Mom discovered daughter Diane picking out tunes on the piano as a second-grader, she chauffeured her to piano lessons for the next nine years. Diane, now 20, eventually won a piano scholarship to Michigan's Interlochen Arts Academy and recalls: "Mom made us feel we could do anything."

Those who know John Anderson's wife, Keke, therefore listened closely when, two years ago, she began to wonder aloud: "Wouldn't John make a great President?" Indeed, the question hovering over his insurgent candidacy is whether he or Keke wants it more—and whose ambitions are more at stake in its success or failure.

Friends say her ambition is misconstrued. "Keke gives John self-confidence," says one intimate of the family. "She is the catalyst that crystallizes his thinking." But, outspoken to a fault, Keke has reportedly characterized Rep. Philip Crane as "a fascist" and John Connally as "a crook." During John's recent Playboy interview, she reportedly interrupted him 21 times ("It was only 17," she corrects). Two former campaign workers credit her with their dismissals, and her jealousy of Anderson's time—she wants him to take Sundays off—has reportedly put her in conflict with surviving staffers. "I think of John as a husband and father," she says. "They think of him as a robot to be programmed."

Keke, 48, frankly admits to a longtime discontent with the lot of a political wife. Her Greek immigrant father was a barber in Boston, and Keke Machakos was a passport photographer in D.C. when she met then Foreign Service Officer Anderson. Married at 19, Keke considers herself "a conservative, traditional mother," whose only real gripe with her housewifely role was John's frequent absence as he moved on to Congress. After eight years in Washington she tried to persuade him to return to Rockford, Ill. and lead a normal family life. "But he enjoyed what he was doing and didn't listen to me," she recalls. The turning point for her was the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. and the ghetto rioting in 1968—events in which she found the measure of her husband's devotion to his work. "I felt a little inadequate because, although I was concerned, my despair couldn't match his at all," she says. She decided then to stop trying to draw him back to Rockford.

Now she finds that her role in his burgeoning career is the answer to her midlife prayers. She spent two and a half months toiling on her own in New Hampshire before the Republican primary and found the work agreed with her. Says her elder sister Rita: "I think she kept feeling smaller and smaller until this came up." Although she acknowledges that her two youngest daughters (Susan, 8, is living with a neighbor in Rockford; Karen, 16, is in a Wisconsin boarding school) have had to sacrifice much of their time with her, Keke says, "It seemed like everyone wanted a piece of me. Until now I never thought about my own identity."

She is unlikely to abandon it, even as First Lady. "She wouldn't butt in on Cabinet meetings," promises son John, 21, a senior at Boston College, but he does fear her bluntness "is going to be raked over the coals." Husband John adds that "Keke has a total honesty that I think more than makes up for not being sufficiently demure or diplomatic. Even when she disagrees," says the candidate, "she doesn't disparage or humiliate people. But she doesn't feel she has to please everyone." But Keke, who says her White House role models are Eleanor Roosevelt and Betty Ford, seems intent on remaining irrepressibly herself. Asked how she'll cope with all the "unbelievable" questions a First Lady gets from the press, she answers instantly: "They'll get some unbelievable answers."

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